London: A large number of girls are now reaching puberty before the age of 10, say scientists who believe the phenomenon could be linked to obesity or exposure to chemicals in the food chain.
A study has revealed that breast development in a sample of 1,000 girls started at an average age of nine years and 10 months - an entire year earlier than when a similar cohort was examined in 1991.
The research was conducted in Denmark in 2006, the latest year for which figures were available, but experts say the trend applies to Britain and other parts of Europe.
Data from America also point to the earlier onset of puberty.
The scientists have warned that such young girls are ill-equipped to cope with sexual development when they are still at primary school, and they could be at a greater long-term risk of developing breast cancer.
“We were very surprised that there had been such a change in a period of just 15 years,” The Times quoted Anders Juul, head of the Department of Growth and Reproduction at the University hospital in Copenhagen, a world leader in the study of hormones and growth, as saying.
“If girls mature early, they run into teenage problems at an early age and they’re more prone to diseases later on. We should be worried about this regardless of what we think the underlying reasons might be. It’s a clear sign that something is affecting our children, whether it’s junk food, environmental chemicals or lack of physical activity,” Juul added.